December 2, 2021


documenting the nigerian story…

Insecurity and the war of words

Quite tragically, the war on insecurity is degenerating into a war of words between political office holders in the presidency, National Assembly and state government houses which occupants are isolated from the killings and live luxurious lifestyles at public expense.

The latest unseemly spat occurred between Governor Ortom of Benue State and the presidency. The governor admonished President Buhari to “act as leader of all Nigerians” and tackle the ever increasing insecurity in Benue in particular and across the country in general. Presidential spokespersons expressed “disappointment and sadness” over this public rebuke which was indeed only one of many expressions of concern. Senator Smart Adeyemi trended on social media for passionately lamenting the virtual nationwide anarchy and federal government’s impotence. Tajudeen Yusuf, a Member of the House of Representatives, berated the presidency for its failure to secure Nigeria from various criminal elements. The Niger State governor decried his powerlessness to prevent local government areas from falling under the control of insurgents.

While the presidency urges Nigerians to exercise patience and forbearance, freed kidnap victims allege there is no sincerity in the fight against insecurity. Even as the alarming statement by the National Security Adviser (NSA) that arms and ammunition which cost the nation billions are missing or were never purchased has been glossed over. Victims swore to have witnessed uniformed security agents sharing money with kidnappers.

This cacophony of voices is an evidence of the fact that there is no generally agreed, nationally accepted plan to overcome insecurity, President Buhari remains silent. He has  a reputation for keeping mute and appearing aloof from the problems of the nation.

Although regular clear communication and taking on new ideas are vital for successful leadership, regrettably any time contrary views are expressed, the presidency becomes combative and jittery. They haughtily brush off anyone not privileged to be within the inner corridors of power, telling them to keep quiet because they have no knowledge of the true facts. Knowledge is of little use without requisite wisdom which embodies empathy and emotional intelligence; which is in short supply. The main attributes of good leadership, which are seriously called into question these days, along with wisdom, are ability (which determines what leaders are capable of doing); motivation (which determines what they actually do) and attitude (which determines how well they do it). Many commentators believe that the paucity of these attributes explains the manner in which the nation is inexplicably losing the war against insecurity.

In the war of words, the response to criticism of government’s inaction has been a plethora of meaningless political statements. Initially they spoke of readiness to “decisively end all forms of security challenges” and intentions to “deal decisively with these killers”.

However, as the situation deteriorated and after armed bandits kidnapped over 200 students in Niger State, they said, “Kidnapping is a problem all over the world. Our hands are on deck to secure their release.”

Undoubtedly, the bar is increasingly being lowered for what is expected of government in a national emergency. The current security policy appears to favour bargaining with armed criminals while “dealing decisively” with unarmed agitators. It is widely accepted that official reaction to the burgeoning insecurity has been too poor, too slow, full of verbiage and lacking results.

The NSA said they are “preparing to frontally confront the situation” and “considering taking profound measures.” He said the National Security Council (NSC) would “reconvene to conclude all discussions on how to end the security assault on the country.” Although saying nothing of significance, to his credit the NSA has been forthright with Nigerians to the extent that he neither pretends that all is well, nor that the war against insecurity is being won.

The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) reported that 4,556 persons were killed violently and 2,860 were kidnapped in 2020 alone!  This calls into question the effectiveness of the institutions and agencies charged with fighting crime and their leaderships. A leaked memo with the subject: “Security Advisory”, written for Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) staff, allegedly by security agencies, reads in part: “Limit all social engagements to those that are absolutely necessary, retire home immediately after office hours, take care that homes are sufficiently secured by way of re-enforcing doors and locks, avoid public drinking places and restaurants after hours, maintain a low profile and avoid travels (air or road) except absolutely necessary.”

While this would be good advice from a friend or relation, it should not come from security agencies. For them to advise Nigerians living in a supposed democracy to forego “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is an admission of impotence. Even if, by some fluke, government does manage to curb insecurity, the question remains that after the blame game, where does Nigeria go from here? How does the nation pick up the pieces, heal the wounds, and prevent further bloodbath? There does not appear to be any concrete plan to build a lasting peace by dousing the pervasive political, ethnic and religious emotions, instead passions continue to be inflamed.

Nigeria is suffering the penalties for having never set up a proper social justice system. Simply procuring sophisticated weapons, restricting free speech and passing legislation to enhance coercion can never solve the problem in the long run. Nigerians have a right to contribute to the solution of their problems. It is their right to demand answers to questions such as, what is happening at our borders? How are sophisticated weapons coming into the country? Who is financing the weaponry? When will heads roll for corruption and sabotage? Has anyone been given the duty of trying to assuage the feelings of communities? What pragmatic steps are being taken to secure schools? What socio-economic policies are being implemented to discourage youths from violent tendencies?

As the National Publicity Secretary of the African Action Congress (AAC), Femi Adeyeye, stated, patriotism cannot be forced on people who have been denied social justice. There would be very little reason for any young man to take up arms or illegal activities if he is given a good education, decent well paid employment, free health care, and an appropriate regular pension when he is old. The simple truth is that as long as the presidency refuses to take alternate opinions on board, preferring instead to limit free speech and issue threats against the constitutional rights of Nigerians, and as long as government contributes so little to the socio-economic well-being of the nation’s youths, the war of words over ending insecurity carried out on social media, opinion columns, conferences, emergency meetings and workshops, will have no visible impact on providing solutions.